You’re looking at the new face of the European Far Right. Mathieu Chartraire; Tetu magazine’s Mr. Gay for 2015. The magazine named him France’s hottest man about the community. He likes long walks on the beach, candlelit dinners, and xenophobic race nationalism.
Marine Le-Pen, the leader of France’s Front National, is probably the most influential figure in French Politics right now. She may even be the single most popular one as well, though that says more about the near-universal disgust for the older, established political parties than it does about her. She preaches national unity and solidarity against an encroaching, evil other. Or, less charitably, racism, bigotry, and hatred. Certainly nothing new in European politics. She’s also, and this does seem to be causing some surprise, very popular in France’s Queer community. Dreamy Mathieu likes her, and it’s causing a stir. They (or should I say we?) prefer her by a margin of ten points over their heterosexual peers. This is being held up as being odd, even surprising. People don’t quite know what to make of it.
It doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s nothing new, and given the current political climate in France, and what life is actually like for gay men, (The larger Queer community’s struggles are often similar, but often very different as well, so this post will focus on my own tribe, about which I can speak) it makes a fair bit of sense.
First of all, hands up who remembers which party was by far the gayest in the Weimar Republic? Need a hint? Well, they were into bold, striking colour schemes, flamboyant ceremonies, and really stunning uniforms.
For years, the prevalence of homosexuality in the Nazi Party was one of the things people held up as evidence of their barbarism and moral depravity. I’m currently halfway through American broadcaster William L. Shirer’s Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany; a well-researched and footnoted work of history, but also more of a primary source and a memoir of his time as a journalist in Berlin at this point than a great work of scholarship. He dwells frequently on the prevalence of ‘sexual perverts’ and ‘moral degenerates’ in the early Nazi Party.
The SturmAbteilung, or SA, Hitler’s first paramilitary shock troops, were notorious in Germany for being full of young, violent, blond gay men. Their leader, Ernst Roehm, was probably the closest thing Hitler ever had to a personal friend. Shirer introduces him as a ‘tough, ruthless, driving man – albeit, like so many of the early Nazis, a homosexual.’ The early history of Nazism, like the early history of most ultranationalist movements is a shady one, full of drunks, drug addicts and people from the poor, despised fringes of mainstream German Society. Not unlike modern Greece’s Golden Dawn. And in the thirties that included, as it almost always has, gay people. Shirer takes it for granted that his audience in 1950s America shares his disgust for homosexuality and cringes with him at this obvious proof of the evil and moral corruption at the heart of Nazism.
Hitler knew that Roehm was gay. He didn’t approve, and there would be no worse badge to wear in the concentration camps than the pink one that denoted a homosexual, but he also didn’t really give a damn. He was a sociopath. So long as people were useful to him, he didn’t care about their morals or proclivities. As soon as they stopped being useful, he would care equally less about ruthlessly killing them. And when the time came, in 1934, to eliminate the SA in the infamous Night of the Long Knives, he didn’t have any trouble finding an excuse to justify his wholesale slaughter of his most loyal lieutenants. No one in Germany mourned them. They were just a bunch of damn queers after all.
People have always hated us. Everyone else on earth is a member of a hated minority in one place, and comfortably in the majority somewhere else. Gay people are a minority everywhere. Times and places where gay men and women have been able to live openly in history are few and far between. And they’re brief. We always get the shit kicked out of us in the end. The best place in Europe to be gay in the 20s and 30s was Berlin until it wasn’t. Straight people do not like us. They think we’re disgusting. Subconsciously, science is proving that most of you feel the need to wash after you speak to me.
I have to admit that sometimes I can get really, really angry about it. It’s irritating that people have such strong feelings and opinions about an aspect of myself that I had no more hand in choosing than the colour of my skin.
It certainly meant I snorted with contempt every time I saw a hysterical report about Ebola. Even if the risible hypocrisy of the contrast between straight white people’s panic at a single case in Texas with their indifference to thousands of people dying horribly in Sierra Leone wasn’t enough to do it, I would remember that North America had already been ravaged by a deadly, horrible disease. It was the 80s, and we called it GRID. Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency System. It really used to get them rolling in the aisles at Reagan’s press briefings. Eventually Rock Hudson died emaciated and terrified, so Middle America finally felt that little twinge of fear that meant there was money for research into a cure. Nobody gave two shits about AIDS while the only people dying from it were us queers. We were just getting what we deserved, weren’t we? Sure, loads of straight Africans have it now too, but well…
Personally, I’ve had it easy. So easy it often makes me uncomfortable. I was born in 1989. By the time I realized I might be gay, society’s attitudes were already changing. I came out not long after Canada legalized gay marriage. Sure, I had to sit through endless dorm room chats while I was still in the closet about my fundamental inferiority, and how if my schoolmates had gay sons they would kill them without a second thought. But for the most part, compared to what my first boyfriend had to go through, or what people like me still go through in most of the world, I really have no right to complain about having been persecuted. We all know what Putin’s been doing by now. If I’d been born in Mosul, ISIS would have thrown me off a high-rise building by now. And a lot of people would have turned out to watch.
But it’s early yet. And this stuff can turn on a dime. It frequently does. Ask the Jews. The difference is no one ever gives a shit about us. No one ever misses us when we’re gone, and no one ever really asks why we needed to be rounded up and shot. Everyone already knows.
Right now the cultural climate in the places I’ve lived is generally against open homophobia. Politeness is on our side. I remember in my first year of university having a smoke out the back of college with one of the Rugby Jocks. I’d heard tell that this guy might be homophobic. He was perfectly nice, and we were getting along fine on a wave of pints and good cheer. I hadn’t asked, but he took the time to explain to me that because I wasn’t obviously effeminate, he didn’t mind me so much. let me know that I was the ‘least offensive gay person [he’d] ever met.’
I didn’t make a thing of it. He was being nice, and I appreciated that he was making the effort. But still, for a long time afterwards I couldn’t help but think to myself…thanks? I appreciate your tolerance of my existence? I’m glad I don’t offend your sensibilities as much as other deviants do? I guess it must be a bit like when a black person bristles at a well-meaning generalization about ‘you people,’ or a Native American sighs an exasperated little sigh when people empathize with his or her ‘plight.’ But I don’t know for sure. I’m still white and from a privileged background, so I can’t pronounce on that with as much authority. This is why there’s such a field of inquiry as intersectionality. This shit can get complicated.
So why would some of us feel inclined to vote for a party like the Front National, when it seems superficially like such a counter-intuitive decision? Well, for a start, we’re not a monolithic ‘group,’ as some people think, and so we don’t have a monolithic opinion. We’re united only by our sexual preference, and often by very. Little. Else. We’re an ‘invisible’ minority as opposed to a ‘visible’ one, and we only ever have to reveal ourselves as such if we choose to. If you’re a fan of X-Men, being gay is a bit like being Charles Xavier. Sure, he’s technically a mutant too, but he’s also rich, white, and a professor at Oxford, so maybe that makes him a little harder to relate to if you’re The Beast, and you can’t actually go out to pick up normal humans in bars with your fancy mind-reading tricks.
But intersectionality bites both ways in our case. There’s less of the solidarity that other underprivileged groups feel for each other. And most of those other underprivileged groups hate us too. If you’re poor, black, gay and West Indian, and your family are ultraconservative Christians who will disown you for being who you are, then you’re going to have a tougher time of it than I did, I freely admit it. And if you’re gay and Muslim? Jeez, I don’t envy you one bit. I’ve met gay Muslims. Yes, they exist. No, I’m not going to tell you who they are. They have to be SERIOUS about keeping that away from their families. Dead serious.
THAT’s the crux of it. That’s why Mr. Gai 2015 is leaning towards Marine Le Pen. Because sometimes when two gay men get beaten up in the street for holding hands? As happens. They get beaten up by Muslim men. Sometimes the devil you know beats the devil you don’t. So it goes.
It should go without saying that I have no desire to feed into some bullshit apocalyptic narrative of Islam vs. the Christian West. I have no desire to play that game. But it should also go without saying that when I see photos of ISIS throwing people like me off a building, and I know that that isn’t a minority opinion in the Muslim world, it makes me look at guys walking down the street in flowing robes, white caps and beards with a bit of side-eye. I’m usually right when I take a guess at what they think of me. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose? I’d take the chance that Marine Le-Pen isn’t full of shit over the implementation of Sharia law. Yes, I know that’s a false choice. No, I don’t think we have to go there. But the idiots on the extremes really want us to. And the people of France have spectacularly taken the bait. And so I get why some gay men (and women?) are falling for it. Fear does crazy things to people. And people like me have an extra reason to be scared of radical Islam. We take it very personally. Because there aren’t any circumstances under which I can pretend that they aren’t also aiming at me when they shoot up a government building or a magazine’s offices. I’m on their list.
I’m going to close with a story that could superficially be taken as evidence of the aforementioned side-eye, but which I actually think is a sign of hope. At the height of the Rob Ford fiasco I was in a cab in Toronto being driven uptown. I was talking to the cab driver. I usually do that, because it’s invariably interesting. But that week everyone in the goddam city was exchanging meaningful glances about the latest exploits of everybody’s favorite town drunk.
He was a recent immigrant from Pakistan, and a very conservative Muslim. He was explaining to me how he was still going to vote for Rob Ford. Apparently he was a nice man, and he’d done a reasonably good job. After all, everyone was entitled to a private life. What business was it of his if the Mayor smoked crack on his own time? I was cringing through my nods and smiles, but did feel compelled to politely ask if that logic would still apply if Mayor Ford was gay? Would that still be his business? Would he still be voting for him? It wasn’t a barbed question. I was curious to see what he would say.
He thought about it. He clicked his mouth and tilted his head a bit to a side. Then he shrugged, and said sure, of course he would. If the gays put up one of their own, who was he to judge? They were good people. If a gay mayor did his job well, it was no business of his.
Sure, sure, ‘people.’ But you know what? I actually am grateful for tolerance. I don’t get mad when people make little mistakes out of ignorance. Why would I? I’m grateful they’re trying. I get mad when people make hate a part of who they are. We all get these little bigoted reactions from our Id when we’re scared or pissed off. The measure of being a good person is how effectively we tamp them back down again. Tolerance, respect, courtesy and basic human decency go a long way to defeating hatred. As Prince Faisal puts it in the classic film Lawrence of Arabia, ‘for [Lawrence] mercy is a passion. For me, it is merely good manners. You may judge for yourself which is the more durable motive.’
So sure, if it’s a choice between the National Front and ISIS, I can bet most gay people will choose the National Front. But that’s a horrible choice. So let’s start finding/figuring out a political movement that doesn’t suck. We’re going to need one pretty soon here.